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When Death Came to Bolivia

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Death was with you at Hole-in-the-Wall
and there when the railway exploded.
He stood in Butch's footprints, silent and curious,
saw he wasn't needed yet, and wandered away.

In the cabin he waited in the cobwebbed corner
fifteen times, fifty times,
for your sweating hand to twitch the trigger.
Etta seemed to feel the chill of his eyes
and the bony dry slide of his fingers
tracing the shiver bumps of spine
and the rising hair on her arching neck.
Death held his breath as long as she did.

Death was on the steamer, strolling among the passengers.
A boy, peacocking for a girl, stagger stumbled overboard
and kingfisher Death, swift and small,
speared him as he struggled.

At the card table a simmering fight turned cool.
Death can't be everywhere at once.

When Death came to Bolivia
you thought at last you'd meet him here.
When Etta left, you knew you would.
You made your peace in a dazed Singani dream.
Took off your hat and shook his hand.
Said 'I'll see you soon' and 'not if I see you first'.

You run to Death the way you ran to Etta five thousand days ago:
with dust in your throat, your heart kicking and alive,
and Butch closer than a shadow, brighter than the light.